Category Archives: Opportunity

All of these posts relate to something I have had the opportunity to do or learn as a result of taking a sabbatical. Without taking a sabbatical, I most likely would not have had the time, energy, or inclination to pursue these activities.

Happy New Year – Blog Review

Thank you for visiting the blog and interacting with us in 2012. We’re looking forward to keeping up the blog – continuing themes of sabbatical taking/lifestyle design, goal setting, cooking, and travel.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Opportunity


Feel Like Makin’ Cakes!

This is a post by Jenny.

I’m a huge slacker in that I have about 4 blog entries bouncing around in my head – about my sabbatical, my new job, our Europe trip, pics, yearly goals, etc –  but have yet to leak them onto a keyboard. I’ve gotten swept up in the return to “normal” life. So, those will come someday…

I’ve been indulging my cake making hobby of late! If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll remember the cake I made myself for my 29th birthday.

I made my brother some delicious, though disastrous looking, cupcakes (chocolate with oreo whipped cream filling and butter cream frosting).

For a visual of me making these, picture midnight the day before Thanksgiving and the frosting bag exploding, sending watery frosting all over my mom's kitchen...

For a visual of me making these, picture midnight the day before Thanksgiving and the frosting bag exploding, sending watery frosting all over my mom’s kitchen…

Also made my sister a birthday cake (chocolate with hazelnut whipped cream filling and butter cream frosting), with a lot of help from David’s mom:


At one point while putting the filling into the cake, the “dam” of frosting that holds the filling in broke open and filling started spilling out, with me and David’s mom trying to frantically stop it, with David nearby asking if he should get a straw and suck up the deluge.

Amazingly, it didn't explode when we cut it open!

Amazingly, it didn’t explode when we cut it open!

For Christmas I got a beginner cake making set, colors, pans, and a book. I want to make a lot of cakes to practice but don’t want to eat them, so I hope family and friends are ready to eat a lot of cake. I will take requests!

Lastly, we just booked a four day trip to Puerto Rico for my 30th birthday next month!!! Wahoo, beach here I come!


Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Opportunity


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Farewell Boston

This is a post by Jenny.

After a very busy, overwhelming 3 months back in Boston, we head out of the country again today. This time, we head to our ancestral roots – to Portugal, Italy, and Spain (neither of us have Spanish roots, but I speak Spanish, so that has to count for something!). We fly back into the U.S on September 6.

A lot of people have said “have a nice vacation” or “wow, that’s a long vacation!”. I might be arguing about semantics here, but I really don’t think of this trip, nor our trip to Asia, as a vacation. Granted, we are traveling and not working, which might be the definition of vacation, but it’s also about a mindset. If we were to spend these two months like a vacation (overindulging, splurging, being lazy), we’d come home fat and broke – which I guess might happen anyways! We more think of our trip as moving temporarily, or a leave of absence from our regular lives. When we discussed what our goals were for this trip, or why we were going, the top two that came from both of us was to meet local people and experience the local way of life, and eat a lot of good food. The second goal will be easy but the first will involve a lot more effort, since neither of us are particularly extroverted. We’re hoping to meet a lot of people through hostelling and CouchSurfing – either by staying with them, or just connecting through message boards and going out together. We’re not sure how, but we want to make this trip less about where we go and what we see, but about that we experience.

This trip will be a lot different than our Asia trip in that it’s not quite as exotic, and significantly more expensive. This trip also starts off with a week with my parents, my sister and her husband visiting extended family that we’ve never met. This should be exciting, but also adds another layer of anxiety and pressure (will they like me? will I have time to do what I want? will people judge me for wearing the same clothes all the time?). I’m hopeful to make some lifelong connections with extended relatives that allow many more follow up visits!

Thank you for your support, and look forward to more frequent, interesting updates. If you have any requests for posts you’d like to see, let us know. We enjoy hearing form readers. Lastly, if you have any connections to the areas we are in, please let us know – we love to meet up with people we “know”.


Back to School


Course materials for the next few weeks. Mostly from the library.

This is a post by David.

Continued learning has always been incredibly important to me. Anyone who knows me is aware of my penchant for picking up random skills (Indian vegetarian cooking, anyone? rock climbing? Kettlebell strength training?). It must come from my mother, who certainly is a Jill-of-all-trades.

I just finished my most recent iPhone app for a client so now I have a few weeks off before we go to Europe. My only responsibility for the next month is to plan our next trip, and while that will be a lot of work, it should hardly fill my schedule (I hope).

So since I have a little free time, I decided to go back to school.

Now I doubt that any self-respecting university would let me through its doors, so I’ve designed my own curriculum based on the skills I want to learn and the time that I have before our trip. One thing that I liked about college was having a structure for learning and defined goals, so I’ve tried to recreate this by coming up with a class schedule for myself. It looks something like this:

  • 7:30-9:00 exercise, breakfast, shower
  • 9:00-9:50 Italian lessons
  • 10:00-10:50 trip planning
  • 11:00-11:50 new iOS features, 2D graphics
  • 12:00-1:00 lunch, go for a walk, check email
  • 1:00-5:00 work study
  • 5:00-10:00 (Monday and Wednesday) sailing, (Tuesday and Thursday) harmonica, dinner, study, homework

In addition to a schedule, I’ve sort of created a syllabus for each class. I tried to identify what I want to learn and how I plan on learning it:


I studied Italian in college and spent a few months in Venice, but I’ve hardly practiced the language since I graduated. First I’d like to go through the old material that I have and “reawaken” the things that I should already know.

After that, I’ll take out some books and DVDs from the library. I might also try some podcasts and courses from iTunes U. And finally, perhaps most importantly, I’ll practice with speakers who are better than me, such as the folks at the Boston Italian Language Meetup.

Trip planning

This isn’t exactly a course per se, but it’s similar to what we called “PQP” at WPI (my alma mater). PQP is “Preparation for a Qualifying Project” and in many cases, it’s more work than the project itself!

Planning a two month journey through Europe will be no small task. I’ll need to figure out what cities to visit, how we are going to get there, and where we will stay when we arrive. I’ll need to look at flights, talk to the fine customer service reps at various airlines, and schedule reward flights to mainland Portugal and from Italy (I think) to the US. I’ll be looking into workshare opportunities, WWOOFing, and I’ll be contacting friends and friends-of-friends (and friends-of-friends-of-friends) that are in Europe. And let’s not forget new gear, travel insurance, and everything else we’ll need.

iOS and 2D graphics

Well, I have to take an in-major course! There are two primary areas that I’d like to study. First: the latest features in iOS. As I type this, Apple’s developer conference (WWDC) is happening and they are announcing all the new features available to us. Once the conference videos become available online I’ll watch them and join the discussion online to learn the new technologies. Also, I’m a bit behind and I know there are still several concepts that I missed from last year’s WWDC so I’ll be following up on that stuff.

The other area I’d like to take a look at is 2D graphics. And what are 2D graphics good for? Making games, of course! I’ve never done any significant work in this area and I’d really love to learn about it. A good starting point will be the tutorials at Ray Wenderlich’s site.

Work Study

What’s the difference between having an idea for an iPhone app, and making money off an iPhone app? Actually doing the work! I plan to spend half the day working on software that I have bouncing around my brain.

I blocked out the afternoon for this because I’ve found that my most productive hours (at least for coding) are from about 2:00 – 5:00 pm.

Extracurricular Activities

Sailing – I joined Community Boating here it Boston. It’s a great program that teaches adults and children alike how to sail by starting on the Charles River and taking trips out the Boston Harbor.

Harmonica – I’ve owned a harmonica for a while now and I have yet to make any good sounds come out of it. So I recently picked up a couple instructional DVDs and I’m giving it another go. Ideally I should be taking lessons or practicing with players who are better than I am. We’ll see how far I get.

Photography – Photography has been an interest of mine for years and I realize that I still have a lot to learn. I recently bought a new camera and I’d like to upgrade my skills before our trip. If I have time, I plan on attending a photography meetup in Boston so I can learn from more experienced photographers.

And now a question to you, dear readers. If you went back to school (either in the literal sense, or in the figurative sense like me) what would you study? What if you could take a month off of work? Are you already furthering your education in the evenings and weekends?


Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Opportunity


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Riding on an Elephant

This is a post by Jenny

Today we rode elephants and it was one of the most incredible experiences we have ever had. We went to an elephant farm to participate in mahout training. (Mahouts are elephant trainers.)

First, we were given traditional mahout clothing to change into:

David made the clothes look good! (hah)

Then we were given a briefing on how elephants are trained, including the use of a hook for training, which is similar to how we use water to teach cats to behave. Our elephants spoke Thai, so we had to learn commands like lift your leg, higher, go forward, back, stop, etc. We met and fed the elephants, which included an adorable 2 month old baby, who at one point stole David’s sandal.

Adorable baby elephant!

The elephants got frisky and hugged and kissed us, which was a pretty unique experience. It tickled liked crazy, and they are a little drooly. But, it was adorable.

Squirming from elephant kisses

To get on an elephant, you hold their ear and shoulder/underarm skin, ask them to lift their front leg, step onto it like a ladder, and ask them to go higher, enabling you to swing up onto their back/neck. Here is a video of David demonstrating:

Huge grins for a feeling of awe at being on an elephant

After practicing all of our commands and getting on and off a few times, we had lunch and rest, then went on a jungle trek for about an hour, which inculded walking in a stream and going up and down hills. David and I shared a gigantic elephant named Balloy!. Balloy! was a lot taller than the elephants we practiced on in the morning, so our mounting of her was less graceful and more like a beached whale. I laughed so hard watching David and then getting on myself, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get up because I was laughing too hard.

Riding on Balloy!

We used a machete to cut down bamboo to feed the elephants, and our guide started a fire from bamboo, dried elephant pooh, and a machete. David and I took note for next time we go camping in New Hampshire. The sun was pounding down, so it was time for elephant bathing in the stream! Balloy! got down in the water and we scrubbed her. We also got hosed down by the elephants and at one point I started using their trunks as a fire hose to spray other people. The elephants seemed to have as much fun in the water as us!

Cooling down and cleaning off

How did David end up surfing an elephant while I got hosed down?

Bathing progressed into swimming, which involved us and our guide on Balloy! walking into a pond of water. The guide gave a command, and Balloy! would duck under, taking us with her. It was a little unnerving but fun.

Yes, we are sitting on an elephant underwater...

Throughout the day, it was evident that the elephants were enjoying themselves as well, playing with us and the guides, splashing in the water. At one point the elephant grabbed our guides hand and tugged on it, as if to say “come play with me”. The guide gently slapped her away and said “not right now, I’m working!” If you ever have the chance to ride and “train” an elephant, be bold and seize the opportunity!

Elephant Fire Hose!


P.S. We have about a million awesome pics of elephant riding, so we are also going to put up a public album up on FB in a few days

P.P.S. In David’s last entry, he talked about our visit to the Buphing Palace. Please note that this is pronounced, the Poo-ping Palace. Hah, get it?

P.P.P.S… Feel free to leave comments on the blog, we love hearing from people (familiar faces or “strangers”)


Posted by on February 9, 2012 in Asia, Opportunity


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Thai Cooking Class

This is a post by David

Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand! We’ve been here for a few days and we’re finally getting comfortable with this city. Yesterday we went to a Thai cooking class and learned to make some traditional Thai dishes. The cooking school was called Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School and they were great.

Our instructor, Palm, picked us up at your guesthouse first thing in the morning and we drove to the school for some green tea. We then met up with the rest of the students (there were seven of us in total) and walked to the local market. It was great to go with a Thai woman because the markets can be very confusing to us farangs (foreigners). It was exactly what you expect: an indoor/outdoor market with lots of stalls selling all sorts of veggies and meats that we’ve never seen before. Palm was great and she explained what everything was and how to pick the best rice and produce.

Rice in the market

Did you know there were this many types of rice?

Jenny at the market

Jenny at the market

When we got back to the school, Palm took us to the kitchen garden and showed us all the ingredients that they grow on site. There was lemon grass, spicy basil, sweet basil, a banana tree, kaffir limes, and even a bamboo shed filled with oyster mushrooms growing out of little sacks.

We picked out our meals and got to cooking. The kitchen is outdoors but under a roof and there were several burners, woks, mortars, and a low table where you sit cross legged to eat.

Palm teaches David and Alex

Palm teaches David and Alex

We got to pick which dishes we wanted to cook, and there were no shortage of options. Jenny and I made:

  • pad thai (of course)
  • pad see ew
  • green curry paste
  • panang curry paste
  • green curry
  • panang curry
  • spring rolls
  • glass noodle salad
  • tom yum soup
  • coconut milk soup
  • sweet rice with mango
Using the mortar and pestle

Palm showing Jenny and Alex how to use the mortar: "you must be like a Thai woman in the market"

After we made a few dishes, everyone sat together at the table and ate and shared lunch. It was all highly delicious. Jenny and I signed up for a full day of instruction, as did a French guy named Alex. Everyone else only had a half day so they left after lunch while we got back into the kitchen. Since there were only three of us left it was effectively a private lesson. It was a lot of work but it paid off! We paid 900 Baht each for the day, which is about $30 USD, and we walked away with more food than we could possibly eat. We even got an ingredient book and cookbook.

Panang Curry

The fruits of our labor - panang curry and coconut milk soup

Palm was wonderful and she really made the class. She was super helpful and funny. Here are some of her words of wisdom (to be read with a Thai accent):

  • on cooking: “You must cook with emotion. Thai women are very emotional.”
  • when using fish sauce: “Use your emotion. If you are too emotional then I cannot help you. You will have salty curry.”
  • on how much chili to use: “We say spicy is sexy. David is most sexy guy.”
  • on using the mortar and pestle: “You must be angry to make beautiful curry paste. More angry, more beautiful.”
Chilis in the market

Bags of hot peppers in the market - spicy is sexy!

Overall the class was great and I would definitely recommend this school to anyone. And the fun didn’t stop there. Palm invited us to go out after class with her and another instructor. We went to a restaurant, watched a band play, ate desert, and just chatted for a while. Thais are very friendly and they love to eat – those are my kind of people!

Group photo

Smiling faces and full bellies


Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Asia, Opportunity


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Something New!

I have added cake decorating to my “want to learn/do during my sabbatical” list! Below is the cake that I made (with assistance from David & his mom) for my birthday – I know, you’re not supposed to make your own birthday cake, but I wanted the chance to learn some cake decorating skills!

a "whimsical" cake, intentionally tilted with lots of fun, bright colors!

chocolate cake, with oreo whipped cream filling, and buttercream frosting!

There were a handful of debacles (including me spraying frosting all over the kitchen when it overflowed out of the spinning mixer), but you know, you live and learn! The cake recipe came off the Hershey’s Cocoa Powder container, and the decorating came out of the book The Whimsical BakeHouse by Kaye & Liv Hansen.

P.S. We leave for Asia in just 11 days!!! Ahhhh!!


Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Opportunity


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